I am writing to share with you some exciting news: the phasing out of shark fin dishes by Shangri-La, a major Asian-based hotel chain that has 72 hotels and resorts worldwide.
This announcement followed similar commitments by Hong Kong-based Peninsula Hotels in December and Capella Singapore in January — as well as recent bans on shark fin possession by the U.S. states of Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and California. Conservation International (CI) applauds these landmark decisions, which represent a shift in behavior that could save these magnificent ocean predators from extinction.
As you may know based on increasing media attention to this important issue, shark fin soup is a symbol of status in some Asian countries — primarily China — and is a popular dish at weddings and other important events. However, shark finning is an unsustainable practice that is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of sharks every year — and if it is not curbed, it may wipe out many species completely. Many shark species are apex predators residing at the top of the food chain; their disappearance would have serious consequences for other marine species.
In early 2010, CI began discussions with major international hotel chains (Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton and Starwood) about creating sustainable seafood programs, with a particular focus on the complicated issue of shark finning. After CI convened the hotels and formed a loose affiliation called the Sustainable Seafood Coalition of the Hospitality Industry, the group decided to focus their initial efforts on the removal of shark fin dishes from their menus. Additionally, I and staff from CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business and Global Marine Division team have met with several of the executives of Asian-based hotel chains, including Shangri-La, New World and Capella Singapore to continue one-on-one discussions with them about creating a sustainable seafood policy.
While we continue to work on market-based ways to reduce overexploitation of sharks, CI is also working in seascapes around the world to develop and implement policies that ensure responsible management of shark populations and fisheries as a whole.
We have begun to turn the tide for shark conservation, but we need your help. By making sustainable seafood choices— and refraining from consuming shark products altogether — you can reduce the global demand for these products. Together, our choices — and our voices — can continue to build momentum for the conservation not only of these fascinating creatures, but also of the oceans on which we all rely.
Peter Seligmann is the chairman and CEO of Conservation International.